OPINION: We should nurture nature not cover it in concrete

Royal Norwich Golf Club, Hellesdon, Norwich
Photo: Adrian Judd
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A (former) precious green lung on the city edge - the old Royal Norwich Golf Club course at Hellesdon - Credit: Archant

As I sit pondering the immediate future of dear old Norfolk, a habit born out of too many years of unprecedented and unwarranted change, I catch the stilted tones of TS Eliot delivering the opening line of his signature modernist poem, The Waste Land.

“April is the cruellest month …” he first suggested in 1922, a sentiment argued over for almost a century by everyone from gardeners and cricketers to taxpayers and soothsayers. As well as academics who can’t make up their minds whether it’s a work of despair or salvation.

In my current mood based on fears we have become embroiled in one of the grimmest chapters in our environmental history, it is too easy to greet that line with a cynical sigh rather than an optimistic smile.

Nearly a decade awash with too much spoiling development has passed since we contemplated the grisly effect of plonking 1,000 homes on the Royal Norwich Golf Club course at Hellesdon, a precious green lung on the city edge.

I remain utterly perplexed at bland acceptance by so many that such a massive scheme would get the nod despite a catalogue of obvious reasons to prevent drastic long-term ramifications, especially where it concerns traffic congestion and community cohesion.


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It must be one of the most significant Norfolk planning decisions in an era renowned for placing lucrative overblown development ahead of genuine local need and deep environmental anxieties.

The Hellesdon starting-gun convinced even more of the bricks-and-mortar brigade that nowhere was out of bounds in this let-rip climate. Lakenham cricket ground’s earlier fall to housing and Norwich Rugby Club’s plans to move from Beeston Hyrne pointed firmly to an merging fashion for sporting surrender.

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One was bound to ask if Carrow Road could be next on the chopping list if the right sort of offer came along. A “prestige site for executive dwellings with easy access to the railway station for rich commuters” could have carried enough marketing clout to transfer Canaries to a new and bigger stadium more in keeping with European aspirations on the Norfolk Showground at Costessey.

In fact, we had to do with delights of the Northern Distributor Road waving a frantic flag for a new season of urban sprawl built on long-discredited myths about “traffic improvements spelling economic largesse and much-needed housing”.

Now we have Western Link, brazen son of NDR, revving up in the wings to find out just how many councillors, planners and other vested interests are bats enough to vote for even more blatant environmental destruction around villages once considered safe from city marauding.

For all the earnest lip-service paid to nature’s wonderful healing powers throughout our lockdown marathon, there’s little evidence this will translate into long-term practical moves for bigger gardens, more space between houses and fresh urgency for a truly green future.

Yet again, ecology will be shoved aside for a “vital economic recovery” and those who dare to suggest priorities are misguided dismissed as tree-hugging cranks.

The key signal came early in the pandemic when our construction industries were spared harsh restrictions borne by many others.

The key philosophy of far-reaching growth behind the Hellesdon housing blitz and NDR drive for “new jobs and homes” – plus all the business and political championing it attracted – hardly lends itself to ploys designed to safeguard remaining green acres.

New planning applications will abound as April unfolds, many of them deliberately outlandish so crafty developers and their cohorts can show true compassion when invited to be more reasonable and cut numbers.

“We have listened to local residents and taken all their concerns on board” goes the well-rehearsed selling formula. Local elections coming up early next month will make little difference across a county where a sad mixture of anger and apathy keeps so many away from the ballot box.

The Norfolk branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England will plead again for remaining land encircling Norwich to be designated a Green Belt. There will be pinpricks of brave opposition and an occasional rebellion among those who really care.

Even so, wholesale wreckage of our precious environment will stretch well beyond the cruellest month. We are counting the cost now in bleak and doom-laden years.

Is there any relief on the horizon? Perhaps another line from The Waste Land offers a sliver of hope: “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow out of this stony rubbish?”

Skip's Aside: I’ve spent a lot of time with Charles Dickens during lockdown. He makes a lively companion.

He wouldn’t let on how he meant to complete The Mystery of Edwin Drood. However, he led me through thousands of pages to select some of his favourite characters … for a formidable football team.

He liked the idea of a literary line-up to take on the big boys and girls already put forward by Thackeray, Austen, Hugo, Hardy, Greene, Orwell and DH Lawrence.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens - Credit: Getty Images

The latter made our dug-out with a bold assertion that Mellors would make a game keeper.

There’ll be no easy games in this new league. All players will give 110 percent, run their gaiters off, make an impact early doors, show they’re far too good to go down and accept while you can’t win the title by Christmas, you can certainly lose it.

The Dickens XI will stage home games at Dingley Dell with kit supplied by The Old Curiosity Shop, weekly match reports appearing in The Hard Time and catering by Havisham Patisserie. Match balls sponsored by Jaggers & Jingle.

It’s a combination tailored for great expectations. Smooth-talking manager Sam Weller and youthful assistant Artful Dodger will be looking for promotion with this team (4-4-2) Fagin; Gradgrind, Cruncher, Tackleton, Slammer; Honeythunder, Murdstone, Swiveller; Pickwick, Barkis. Substitutes: Trotter, Snodgrass, Heep, Scrooge, Micawber.

Academy youngsters Twist, Copperfield and Steerforth are showing promise but Quilp, Sikes, Marley and Pecksniff are available for free during the close season.

Just heard that in a warm-up friendly against Hugo’s Victors at Dingley Dell, the so-called Wanderers Weller’s hit back in a manner that may suggest the quill is still mightier than the sward. They trailed 4-0 at half-time but recovered valiantly to force a draw.

Goals came from Magwitch (struck with conviction), Barkis (always a willing front runner) and surprise substitutes Micawber ( he knew a chance was bound to turn up) and Heep. He apparently refused to accept any congratulations from excited colleagues.

“It was a most humbling experience just to be on the pitch” he squirmed..

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